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EpiCentro - Epidemiology for public health
Epidemiology for public health - ISS

Symptoms and diagnosis

The most common symptoms of coronavirus infection in humans include fever, cough and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), kidney failure and even death. More specifically:

  • Common human coronaviruses usually cause mild to moderate upper respiratory tract illnesses, like the common cold, which last for a short period of time. Symptoms may include:
    • runny nose
    • headache
    • cough
    • sore throat
    • fever
    • general feeling of being unwell.
    Human coronaviruses can sometimes cause lower respiratory tract illnesses, such as pneumonia or bronchitis. This is more common in people with pre-existing chronic cardiovascular and/or respiratory diseases, as well as individuals with weakened immune systems, infants and elderly people.
  • Other human coronaviruses that made the leap from animals to humans, like MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV, can cause severe symptoms. Symptoms of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome typically include a fever, cough and shortness of breath, which often progress to pneumonia, and around 3 to 4 in 10 cases are fatal. MERS cases are still occurring, mostly in the Arabian Peninsula. Symptoms of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome include fever, chills and muscle aches, which usually progress to pneumonia. Since 2004, however, no new cases of SARS-CoV infection have been reported anywhere in the world.

As the common symptoms of coronavirus infection are non-specific, laboratory tests can be performed on respiratory and/or serum samples, especially in the case of severe illness. If symptoms occur, however, people should inform their doctors of any recent travel or contact with animals (for example, travels to countries in the Arabian Peninsula, or contact with camels or camel products).


Page last reviewed: April 2, 2020

Publication date: January 23, 2020

Authors: Giovanni Rezza, Antonino Bella, Flavia Riccardo, Patrizio Pezzotti - Dipartimento Malattie infettive, ISS